From the time I was 12 years old, I baked this Red Devil’s Food chocolate cake for my dad every year on his birthday and often when we had guests coming for dinner. It always put a smile on his face and I was so proud of my baking accomplishments.
Whenever I baked this cake my dad would stake a claim to at least half of it, LOL. The buttermilk is a slight tangy counterpoint to the sugar and cocoa, adding depth and richness. If you don’t have buttermilk on hand, you can always add vinegar to milk, stirring until it is thickened.
This cake recipe was developed, in rural Indiana in the 1920’s, by my Great Aunt Mildred Mains. Mimi always frosted it with butterscotch icing and it is a family standard. Over the years I’ve found other great chocolate cakes, but this is the original that started it all.
If you have read other recipes for Red Devil’s Food cake you’ll often see them call for red food coloring. Mimi used to laugh about that because it is the buttermilk that lightens the chocolate color and reveals its underlying red tones.
When I got old enough to attempt making a cake from scratch on my own, dad gave me this recipe to practice on. He always told us it was topped with a butterscotch icing from the Joy of Cooking, but I searched and couldn’t find it. It turns out their caramel icing is what Mimi used. Butterscotch/caramel is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of frosting a chocolate cake, but it is absolutely addictive.
One of the tricks of using this icing is that it firms up as the butter cools so as soon as you have it made, spread it on top of the still warm cake. Quickly make any swirls or other decorations you want. The icing will be firm and hold its shape in less than 5 minutes.
I hope you become converts to this Red Devil’s Food style of chocolate cake and join my family in our passion for it.
Have a very happy Chocolate Monday!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
When you are done making the liquid portion of the icing in the saucepan, fill it with water and bring to a boil. This melts and cleans the pan effortlessly. A quick wash with soapy water and rinse and the pan is ready for your next project.
Use a gluten-free flour blend, like my favorite here, and add either xanthan gum or psyllium husk powder to help keep the cake from becoming crumbly. Always weigh your ingredients if possible for the best and most consistent results.
- 2 cups (240 g) all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour blend
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp xanthan gum or 1 tsp psyllium husk powder - only if making this recipe with a gluten-free flour blend
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa powder
- 2/3 cup softened butter or vegetable shortening
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup buttermilk or soured milk
- 1 tsp pure vanilla extract or paste
- 1/2 cup hot water
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9x13x2-inch pan; set aside.
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add xanthan gum or psyllium husk powder if you are using a gluten-free flour blend, whisking well to distribute it evenly in the dry ingredients. Set aside.
- In a the bowl of your stand mixer, beat together the brown sugar and cocoa. Add the butter and beat until smooth. Add the eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla, beating until blended. Add the dry ingredients and mix in, then add the 1/2 cup hot water and carefully mix it in.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and leave in the pan to cool. Frost with Butterscotch Icing (recipe follows) and serve while warm.
- Yield: about 10 servings
- 4 tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- Dash salt
- 1/3 cup evaporated milk or whole milk (Not sweetened condensed milk!)
- 2 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar, or as needed
- 1/2 tsp vanilla or rum
- In aheavy saucepan, combine the butter, brown sugar, salt, and evaporated milk. Cook, stirring over medium heat until smooth, and the sugar is dissolved, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cool slightly and pour into the bowl of your stand mixer.
- Beat in the confectioners' sugar, using as much as needed to get a good spreading consistency. Beat in the vanilla.
- Quickly spread on the warm cake because the frosting hardens rapidly. Serve immediately or store, covered, in the refrigerator.
- Yield: enough icing for a 9-inch layer cake or 9x13-inch sheet cake
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